The Spirit and Aim of Britain

The Spirit and Aims of Britain in the War. From (errors are mine): Thoughts in War-Time, by William Temple, Macmillan & Company Limited, 1940. Also known as The Spirit and Aim of Britain. Text of October 2, 1939 BBC broadcast by William Temple (Archbishop of York, 1929–42). Dion Fortune mentioned this broadcast in The Magical Battle of Britain [Letter No.2, for October 15th 1939].

Those who have vivid memories of August and September, 1914, naturally compare with their recollections of that time the experiences through which we are passing now. There is less excitement, but there is even firmer resolution. Then modern war was a thing unknown. Few, certainly, entered upon it light-heartedly; yet there was a certain display of high spirits and exhilaration. There was very little bitterness or hatred, and there was a widespread sense of moral obligation, especially towards Belgium; but there was not, in my recollection, a sense of dedication. What had to be done appeared as a painful and vexatious interruption of a manner of life which it was hoped that we might resume before long. There was substantial unity among all sections of the community; but there were exceptions to this unity, and the exceptions were very vocal. Further, the great mass of public opinion, though clear that entry on the war was a moral duty and a political necessity, was none the less a little bewildered about it. For had not the crisis started with the murder of an Archduke who could not be a person of special interest to British citizens? The diplomatic history, when published, confirmed men's assurance that they must fight, but did not remove the feeling of bewilderment.

An Evident Duty

In 1939 there is no such feeling. The story is perfectly clear, and for months the public mind has been habituated to the thought that war might become an evident duty. Apart from those who hold that it can never be right to take up arms at all, there is no division of opinion. There are those who believe we ought to have risked war sooner in resistance to aggression; there is no one who believes that it can ever be right to engage in war and yet holds that we should have held back now. The unity of purpose in entry upon the war is absolute.

Partly, perhaps, for this reason, it is completely void of excitement. There is a deep determination, accompanied by no sort of exhilaration, but by a profound sadness. Men are taking up a hateful duty; the very fact that they hate it throws into greater relief their conviction that it is a duty. It is a duty first to Poland; but that is rather the focus than the real essence of our obligation. It is in fact Poland; it might have been some other country; for our purpose is to check aggression, and bring to an end the perpetual insecurity and menace which hang over Europe, spoiling the life of millions, as a result of the Nazi tyranny in Germany.

A Dedicated Nation

We enter the war as a dedicated nation; and it is this fact which has called forth the response of the younger generation in so marvellous a manner. It is one of the most remarkable features of this crisis that it has found our young folk more ready to serve their country in arms in its service of a cause, than ever they were, or could have been roused to be, for any imperial interest. No doubt there is in the background the reflexion that, if the Nazi tyrants are again successful in aggression, our turn is not far off. But this is very much in the background. The prevailing conviction is that Nazi tyranny and aggression are destroying the traditional excellences of European civilisation and must be eliminated for the good of mankind. Over against the deified nation of the Nazis our people have taken their stand as a dedicated nation.

Such a stand might easily be self; righteous, but there is little trace of that. There is a widespread recognition that we carry a share of responsibility for the evil state of the world. Our people are confident, not in their own righteousness as individuals or as a nation, but in the justice of the cause to which they have now dedicated themselves.

In that spirit we enter the conflict. And it is worth while to give it expression in words, because we may need at many times in the coming months to recall our minds to the ideals which claim our devotion now. When the suffering of war becomes more acute, when perhaps air raids bring destruction and horror to our doors, it will be hard to maintain the lofty mood of sober resolution which is almost universal to-day. Temptation to bitterness of resentment and consequent ill-will and hatred will be very strong. If we yield to those temptations, we shall betray the cause to which we are now dedicated. Let us then, now, before the strain is fiercest, register our high purpose and consider what is needed for its achievement.

It seems to me that the achievement of our purpose is possible only if two conditions are fulfilled. The first is that we should make no terms with Herr Hitler or his Government — not because it is undemocratic, which is Germany's concern and not ours, but because it is utterly untrustworthy. The second is that the terms which we make with an honourable German Government shall be arrived at in such a way as to show that we have sought no kind of advantage for ourselves and no humiliation for the German people.

The Men of Dates

First, we can make no terms with Herr Hitler or his colleagues. In my view the events of the last few days make no difference to this decision. The Prime Minister has said that the word of Herr Hitler is not in our eyes worth the paper it is written on; he has broken too many promises ever to be trusted again. The series of broken pledges is vividly present to all our minds, from the militarisation of the Rhineland in breach of the Treaty of Locarno which he had himself reaffirmed, to the rape of Czecho-Slovakia and the device whereby he accused the Poles of rejecting the proposals which had never even been submitted to them. This is a series of outrages upon foreign States.

Even more fraught with shame and with unworthiness to speak for a great people like the German is the record of scandalous action at home. It is a custom in France to use dates as the names of men and events. Danton was proud to be called the man of the 10th August — the date when the French Revolution entered on its final phase. Napoleon III is spoken of as the Man of December; the reign of Louis Philippe as the July Monarchy. We should similarly think of Hitler and his colleagues as the men of the 22nd August 1932; of the 27th February 1933; of the 30th June 1934; of the 25th July 1934; of the 3rd March 1938; of the 8th October 1938; of the 9th November 1938.

What do these dates stand for?

On the 22nd August 1932, that dreadful telegram, known as the Beuthen telegram, was published which glorified six Nazis who trampled a helpless Communist to death in front of his mother. Those six men were on trial, and Hitler telegraphed to them, 'Your freedom is our honour'.

On the 27th of February 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire. No one doubts who started that fire; but someone else was done to death as the culprit.

On the 30th of June 1934, at least seven hundred Germans were shot in cold blood — some of them great patriots — one was a builder of the Reichswehr: some were comrades of Hitler from the early days.

On the 25th of July 1934, Dollfuss was murdered. Can we acquit of guilt for this, the men who set up a memorial in honour of the murderers?

On the 3rd March 1938, Pastor Niemöller was acquitted by the law courts, and at once imprisoned in a concentration camp. He is, so far as we know, still in a concentration camp.

On the 8th of October 1938, the palace of Cardinal Innitzer, who had welcomed Hitler at Vienna, was sacked.

On the 9th November 1938, the great pogrom against the Jews took place in Germany.

The best German citizens are deeply ashamed of all these things. Many of them, because they must endure at present that their country should be governed by the criminals, would be glad to forget those dates and what took place on them. But such deeds cannot be forgotten, and those who are guilty of them are unworthy to speak and act for a great people.

No Fresh Grievances

With the men whose names derive their meaning from those dates we must not make terms. But if the German people set other rulers in their place, what then? Then we have to show beyond all possible doubt that we aim at no advantage for ourselves, and no humiliation for Germany. To make that clear we have to take two steps.

First, we have to recognise certain facts, including mistakes and wrong on our own side. The Peace of Versailles was made by conquerors in the spirit resulting from a victorious war. Most of its clauses, taken separately, can be defended; some of them were admirable, including that which put Poland once again upon the map. But the total effect was such as inevitably to create a sense of genuine grievance. Moreover, the war-guilt clause, against which many of us have protested on the ground of Christian sentiment, could only have had value if it had been freely accepted.

Secondly, we have to recognise that the Allies and the League of Nations, which was in practice their organ, never utilised the machinery in the League Covenant for remedying by peaceful means any sense of grievance which had been created. Article 19 of the Covenant was never used. Moreover, the Disarmament Conference failed, with a resulting resentment in Germany, followed by a programme of intensive rearmament.

Our first step, then, towards the making of a just settlement must be a frank recognition of much wrong and failure on our side in the past and of certain facts which we have tended to ignore.

Agreed Terms of Peace

Many are pressing for a declaration of our terms of peace. They may be right, but I cannot support that demand. We do not know what the circumstances will be; it may not be in our power to satisfy the hopes that have been encouraged. In that case, only the bitterness of disillusionment would result. Nor can we profitably lay down principles, for most of the chief problems concern not the principles but their application. Certainly if there were no alternative to a statement of principles or practical aims, I should be silent on this whole subject. For I wish to speak as a representative of Christian opinion, and there is too much of a technical political character in this field for Christian opinion as such to be entitled to special attention. But there is still another alternative, to which, as I think, a Christian outlook leads us, and which carries with it no such risk of disappointment or disillusionment as is inherent in a declaration of either guiding principles or detailed proposals. It is suggested by consideration of the most radical fault of the Treaty of Versailles — namely, that it was imposed and not negotiated. This may have been true of treaties which the Germans themselves have made; but, nevertheless, let us as Christians determine at all costs to avoid any repetition of a procedure by which it is hardly possible to create a general sense that justice has been done.

In other words, let us determine and declare that when the fighting stops, the terms of peace shall be drawn up in a true Congress of Nations, in which Germany — freed from the Nazi tyrants — shall take her place among the rest, but in which also the rights of Czechs and Poles shall have a first claim to consideration. If there are matters on which no agreement can be reached, let these be referred to a Court of Equity formed from neutral nations which are neither beneficiaries nor sufferers by the Peace of Versailles.

Justice or Arrogance?

Nothing, surely, can so clearly establish the disinterestedness of our aims as such a declaration. Nothing, surely, could give to the peoples of Poland, Czecho-Slovakia and Germany so clear an assurance that they will receive justice so far as the tangle of facts bequeathed to us by history permits it and the wisdom of man can secure it. This frees us from the dreadful responsibility, and, indeed, the indefensible arrogance, of ourselves attempting to decide what is just and imposing it on others.

Before this Congress of Europe should be brought all outstanding grievances and problems containing the seeds of future wars — problems of frontiers, problems of colonies, problems of tariffs, problems of every sort — and we must ourselves be ready for sacrifices, provided the interests of minorities and of subject peoples are safeguarded. Such a Congress may take years to do its work; but some of the matters calling for adjustment are of old standing and have not yet led to grave trouble. Many of us hope that the Congress will pave the way for that Federal Union of Europe in which we see the only hope of a permanent settlement. But that is a large question, and certainly Europe cannot be federated until it is pacified.

Here, then, I suggest, is a programme which gives expression to the spirit and convictions with which our nation has taken up arms: no peace with Hitler or with those who have been his colleagues; but with the German people guided by a trustworthy government a peace honourable to them as truly as to us, freely negotiated in a Congress of European nations.